NBC writer examines geothermal dispute

mcwdA contributing writer to NBC News, Linda Carroll, has examined the conflict between Mammoth Community Water District and Ormat Geothermal. Her story appears online. The Water District shared the information in what they are calling the “In Case You Missed It Series”. While network news writers rarely pay attention to minor water wars in the Eastern Sierra, it is known that Mammoth Community Water District paid $125,000 for a public relations firm to create a higher profile of the fight with Ormat.

The NBC writer calls it a “bitter battle” playing out. She describes Ormat’s plan to increase pumping of hot water from a deep underground source and the fact that residents fear this could threaten the cold water aquifer that supplies as much as 70% of the community’s drinking water.

The story says locals aren’t against geothermal power but do want the company to commit to drilling dedicated deep wells that would allow constant monitoring of changes and provide warning of threats.

Ms. Carroll also quotes Ormat Senior Vice President Bob Sullivan as agreeing that monitoring is important. She quotes him as saying he doesn’t believe there’s a need to drill expensive deep wells solely to keep track of water pressures and chemistry. Sullivan is quoted as saying that the hot zone can be monitored by taking working wells off line periodically to gather measurements.

The story says hot water is removed at one location and returned at another. Bill Evans, a research chemist with the U.S. Geological Survey, is quoted as saying that it’s possible removing the water could cause a pressure drop in the geothermal zone that might then draw down water from the upper cold water reservoir.

NBC says the town wants four deep wells to be drilled along with more shallow ones for monitoring. The USGS suggests one or two. Ormat says no dedicated deep monitoring wells are needed.

Water District Manager Patrick Hayes says Ormat wants the risk to be borne by the community. He is quoted as saying that the deep monitoring wells are his community’s “insurance.”

Bill Evans of USGS says “somewhere a compromise has to be struck.” So, there’s the latest in talk over Mammoth’s water supply and Ormat’s need for hot water.


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2 Responses to NBC writer examines geothermal dispute

  1. Ken Warner October 8, 2014 at 3:50 am #

    Geothermal energy seems like a great way to get cheap, renewable energy 7/24. But the energy generation has to be done carefully and with consideration of the local environment.

    The big island of Hawaii is having trouble with their geothermal generation and the parent company of the generation site is also ORMAT.


    “The only time there would be emissions is if there was a break in the pipe or some kind of venting in an emergency,” explains Gary Gill, interim director of the state Department of Health. “In that case PGV has three monitors and the Department of Health has one standard monitor. This community is on the flank of a volcano, so it kind of depends on the direction of the wind what you smell on a given day.” Critics argue that four air-quality monitors are not nearly enough, and individual air monitors are now being distributed to some members of the community.

    Then there are the fears about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which many environmentalists find troubling due to its potential to cause severe groundwater contamination and earthquakes. With hydraulic fracturing, water, sand and chemicals are injected into the earth to open fractures in the shale. Oil and gas then seep into the fractures and are pumped out. Some geothermal developers, including PGV’s parent company, Ormat Technologies, have begun to experiment with a process called “enhanced geothermal systems,” or EGS, in which pressurized water is injected into the earth to open rock fissures underground, making room for steam and liquid that can be heated by the geothermal rock. The difference is that EGS is used to open existing rock fissures rather than create new ones, and the water injected into the ground generally matches that naturally found at the surface: It contains some minerals, but no chemicals or sand. EGS can also cause tiny earthquakes.

    • Philip Anaya October 8, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

      Thanks for the great link KW. What an assortment of Issues


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